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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Southport Fieldhouse falls in line as one of the copious historic and spacious palaces for high school basketball in the state of Indiana. The facility can hold a robust 7,300 spectators making it the 10th largest venue of its kind in the world. It is the home to the Southport High School Cardinals basketball programs and is located 10 miles south of downtown Indianapolis, establishing the recognition of largest high school gymnasium in the city.
The first game played in this facility took place between the Cardinals and Indianapolis Tech Titans on November 29, 1958. A full capacity crowd was on hand to usher in a new era of sports in the city. The fieldhouse hosted the Indiana High School Athletic basketball state semi-finals and regionals, wrestling state finals from 1960-1980 and was home to Indiana Central College (now U of Indy) basketball from 1958-1960 before it relocated to its current home, Nicoson Hall. There have even been Easter morning services held inside the venerable gymnasium.
The colors of red and white dominate the venue; the outside hallways feature a wonderful array of memorabilia from the school’s history of sports. Old scoreboards, center court logos, nets, trophies, basketballs, and photographs outline the hallways near the main entrance to the arena. There is still a lot of pride for many of this massive and historical site on the southside of Indianapolis.
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There are three concession stands located on the upper level of the seating concourse. All of the favorites are offered including hot dogs ($2), pizza ($2), walking tacos ($3), nachos ($3), popcorn ($2), breadsticks ($2), and chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A ($4). Pepsi products are served along with coffee and hot chocolate. One added treat are Dippin Dots ice cream served in a cart adjacent to the concession stand and offered in three sizes.
There is not a bad seat in the 7,300 seat arena, fans enter through doors on the floor of the playing court and embark to their seats that are separated into two sections consisting of 26 rows in an octagonal shape. The upper section consists of the original wooden bleacher seats that are still numbered from the days when reserved seats were sold at games. The lower section seating is made of modern plastic bleacher seats.
The massive gymnasium also has a lot of charm in itself from banners of the 1990 Final Four team and the retired number of Basketball Hall of Famer Louie Dampier who starred with Southport from 1962-1964. Cheerleaders and the pep band do their best to liven up the crowd and many old timers are game for a conversation about the history of the venue. The are also special theme nights scheduled that celebrate former players, teams, or anniversaries.
During my most recent visit it was Indiana Pacer night and Boomer, the team's mascot, made a special appearance and delighted the crowd with an aerial halftime show that had him dunk off a personal sized trampoline, shoot t-shirts into the stands, and engage a few youngsters to join him on court. The Cardinals also have their own mascot who is among the best looking of the high schools in the area. He interacts with fans as well and will pose for a picture or two if you ask him.
The Southport section is only a 15 minute south drive from the downtown Mass Ave and Fountain Square districts of Indianapolis. However, you are also a 10 minute drive from the southern Indy suburb of Greenwood. The large shopping district area features a few great restaurants to try when in the neighborhood. Brozinni Pizzeria serves New York-style pizza, upstate New York spiedies, and St. Louis-style fried ravioli.
Shallo's Antique Restaurant offers a wide selection of draft and bottle beers along with huge pork tenderloin sandwiches, Caribbean flavored chicken varieties, and open-face hot brown sandwiches. There are also two reputable microbreweries that are gaining notoriety in Central Indiana in nearby Greenwood: MashCraft Brewing Company and Planetary Brewing Company.
Hotels and motels in the area are plentiful and include the Comfort Suites, Country Inn & Suites, Hampton inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express, and Fairfield Inn and Suites. The majority of these lodging destinations are located off the Southport exit of I-65.
There are a variety of spectators that attend games at the fieldhouse including alumni, students, and the casual spectator . They all share one thing in common and that is their love for the Cardinal basketball team. The student section is made up of around 70 plus kids who stand throughout the game and show their support through cheers, heckles, screams, and chants. The casual spectator is on the sideline either frustrated or delighted by what is going on on the court. When the contest is close, the excitement can be heard at high pitched levels.
The fieldhouse is located less than two miles off exit 2A on I-465 and SR-31. Parking is free and plentiful for most games, but higher attended games could be a different scene. Once inside it is easy to get around to your seats, to the bathroom, or to concession stands.
All tickets for adults are $5, very common among all high schools in the state. It is well worth the price of admission for basketball in a historic building. There have been a few high school hoop stars who currently play in the NBA who have played in Southport and other fieldhouses in recent times. When you include the price of concessions and souvenirs at the gift table, it makes for quite an inexpensive night of sporting entertainment.
Southport High School features an impressive looking mascot. However, he would be better served if he was donning a jersey over the outfit for the proper look on the court.
There is a great collection of paraphernalia in and around the building that is featured nicely and neatly on lobby walls. The Wall of Fame and championship team photos are also on display inside the fieldhouse.
The hospitality room is an interesting little room located outside the gym in the main lobby. There are pictures, photos, and various pieces of Southport memorabilia set in a 1950's diner backdrop. It is open only to media, coaches, referees, and staff, but a quick look and you will be taken back to another era.
The collection of high school facilities in Indiana is impressive in design, beauty, and nostalgia. Southport's venue fits nicely into the collection. The proximity of the facility to Indianapolis makes it an easy stop for anyone who is town visiting other sports events. Hinkle Fieldhouse and Bankers Life Fieldhouse might grab all of the attention and praise in the city, but the Southport Fieldhouse should not be overlooked. It has been standing proudly since 1958.
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